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America’s Newest Export: Jesus

No, it’s not true that America has to import everything and that we have nothing to contribute to the rest of the world. We do too.

Even as we speak, boatloads of Bible-totin fire-and-bri mstone-spewi ng Christians are being shipped out to ports all up and down Europe and Britain. They’re cheaper by the gross.

Ah heck, maybe this will do ‘em some good. Europeans are too bland; too much ennui and sophisticati on. Maybe a little holy rollin’ and hootin’ and hollerin’ will inject some life into them.

Answers in Genesis is an American organization — based in Kentucky — that’s trying to spread Creationism throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Battles over Creationism vs. Evolution have actually been spreading to Britain, Germany, Poland and Italy.

Creationism is still pretty much marginalized in Europe, but it’s increasing. Evangelical worship is spreading all over the Continent. Don’t they have enough problems already?

And now some homegrown organization s are following in the footsteps of Answers in Genesis. A British group called Truth in Science has been sending DVDs to every high school in Britain, trying to argue for “intellige nt design.” And if that’s not bad enough, an organization called AH Trust wants to build a Christian theme park in northwestern England.

The president of Britain’s National Secular Society (founded in 1866) is concerned about the increasing spread of Evangelicals  : “Creationi sm is creeping into the schools. There is a constant pressure to get these ideas into the schools.”

Simon Barrow is the co-director of Ekklesia, a British-base d, Christian-or iented research group. He says that until recently, there were lots of people who held Evangelical views but also endorsed mainstream science. He says the militancy and the “either-or” battles have been imported from the United States in the last few years. “There is a lot of American influence, and there are a lot of moral and political and financial resources flowing from the United States to here. Now you have more extreme religious groups trying to get a foothold.”

The Council of Europe is a human rights watchdog group consisting of 47 countries. They’re worried about the quality of education in Europe being jeopardized if their schools are flooded with Creationism and other religious dogma. They’re right to be worried. All they have to do is look across the Atlantic. Note the extreme mass gullibility and lack of critical thinking skills in that country. Be very afraid.


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Surprising survey shows Democrats breaking through to born again Christians

A surprising survey out today shows that if the general election were held today, Democrats would stand a better chance than Republicans to pick up the majority of born again Christian voters. (Let’s take a moment to reflect on this moment of irony, talking about the general election before “Suppah Tuesday” even wraps up.)

Now let’s not run outside to see if the sky is falling. Yes, the survey (conducted by The Barna Group) shows a generic win for Democrats, with an “unknown Democrat” taking 40 percent of the vote compared to an “unknown Republican” at 29 percent. This discrepancy is likely to do with the fact that neither side has settled on a candidate.

But that said, and pardon the pun, but holy moly! This is huge news for Democrats, and shows that the work they’ve done since 2004 to woo religious voters is really working. Sure, this gap will narrow. But it’s safe to say that religious voters are up for grabs in 2008. Or as George Barna, head of the Barna Group says, “Evangelical s are clearly sending a message to Republican leaders this time around. There is tremendous frustration among evangelical voters, in particular … given the stands of some of the leading Republican contenders, evangelicals are registering their discomfort with the choices they have at hand.”

Echoing the Barna Group study, a new poll out from GodTube.com  (yes, I’m not making that up…there really is a GodTube, and if you go there, prepared to be treated to some Christian rock!), showed that Christian voters currently favor Democrats over Republicans. Their new poll found that 43.9 percent of Christian voters support the leading two Democratic candidates while 34.7 percent back Republican candidate Mike Huckabee.


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How evangelical is West Virginia? Ask Mitt Romney.

Well, Super Tuesday is only a few hours old, but already my favorite sneak attack has happened, courtesy of the McCain campaign. According to Christianity Today.com, McCain asked his West Virginia supporters to switch their vote to Huckabee after the first round of caucusing, selling Mitt Romney out to dry.

Huckabee is almost a natural fit for West Virginia, given that 44 percent of the state supposedly identifies as evangelical.   But Romney made a significant play there in the past few days, hoping to pull together a West Virginia, Georgia, Utah and California win. (I bet that’s the first time those states were lumped together!)

Smart move by McCain. Bad luck for Romney. Huckabee, ever now the token candidate, gets a state.


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God’s Charge To Mankind: Punish The Gays?

Lighten Up God

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and again I find myself exasperated by what I read in a newspaper or on the Internet. Today I came across one such item. Apparently a conservative pastor in Redmond, Washington, the location of Microsoft’s headquarters  , is putting together an effort to get Christians to purchase shares of Microsoft stock in order to begin the process of ending the company’s support for “ungodly ventures”.

Cutting to the chase, the group is angered by Microsoft’s support for gay rights and the fact that the company believes its gay employees should receive all of the same consideratio n and benefits of their straight counterparts .

The groups leader, Rev. Ken Hutcherson, had previously sough to influence the company, a move that led a number of gay rights advocacy groups to accuse the company of allowing the Reverend to exert undue influence. At the time, the company briefly waffled on its support for a bill in the Washington’s state legislature of which barred workplace discriminati on against gays.

Hutcherson, joined by some of the country’s most influential Christian leaders, has created a new organization  , AGN Financial Network, to finance the effort. The worldwide venture asks people to buy three shares of company stock and donate one to AGN. Its Web site tells visitors, “You have the power to change the world,” and contains tips on how to open a brokerage account. Among the listed supporters are Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and religious pundit Gary Bauer.

At Microsoft’s annual shareholder meeting in November, Hutcherson told the group that he was gathering evangelicals  , Catholics, Jews and Muslims to challenge the company.

He told company leaders, “I could work with you, or I could be your worst nightmare, because I am a black man with a righteous cause, with a host of powerful white people behind me,” according to an e-mail update to his supporters. “I hope to hear from you and if not, you will hear from me.”

When asked whether the new initiative is a ploy to make money for his church, Hutcherson said, “Absolutely. ”

“We’re going to need the finances to go to the next companies,” he said. “Anything you do successfully needs money.”

“Oh, yes ma’am, we’re going after corporations  ,” he said. “Microsoft has the privilege of being first because we have a history,” Hutcherson said.

I’ve said it many times before and I will say it again…these people will spend their last nickel attacking gays but for some odd reason you rarely hear them mounting the same kind of efforts to help the uninsured or the poor. If they were to take this same initiative with regards to providing health care for poor children in Washington, I suspect they could improve the lot of countless children. Instead, the Reverend wants Christians to donate stock so he can wage a public relations battle with Microsoft. Ahh, yes, is it any wonder why I revile most religious institutions  ?

All too often the leaders of religious organization s spend their time attempting to separate their followers from their hard earned cash by inciting their uninformed and misguided prejudices. Excuse my indignation, but if those in the service of the lord are actually little more than agents for agitating hatred, then I have to question the validity and necessity of their existence.

Further, if they represent the feelings of the god they impart; then he is little more than a vindictive interloper with misplaced priorities. In my most agitated moments, I conclude that this supposedly all-knowing god…the one who allegedly created all that is…is either a full-fledged fraud or one lousy engineer. If he didn’t want any gay people in the world he built, then he should have done a better job when building its inhabitants. Further, if he’s as focused as his followers on punishing gays and denying them equal rights…while simultaneous ly ignoring the plight of millions of his creatures, then he’s also one heartless and hypocritical caretaker.

I can save these fanatics and their god a lot of time, energy, and money. Here’s the deal. As I understand it, God created a place called hell for those who don’t follow his words as written in the Bible by a number of humans over two thousand years ago. Fine, then accept that I’m a lost cause and sign my friends and I up for irrevocable reservations to the fiery depths…then start spending the time and energy you’ve devoted to me and my gay cohorts helping the millions of innocent human beings in need. Call it my contribution to the advancement of Christianity .

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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Romney gives the faith speech

Many of Mitt Romney’s advisers have been on him for months now to address his religion, but it likely took a new poll out by the Des Moines Register showing him five points behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, that has Romney ready to give his John F. Kennedy speech on religion. Ala Kennedy and his Catholicism in 1960, Romney is preparing to talk about his faith - Mormonism - for the first time this Election season.

Despite the endorsements of many prominent Christian conservative s, including Bob Jones, Paul Weyrich, and David Keene, Romney is still perceived as having problems resonating in socially conservative circles, especially among evangelicals . This could be one of the reasons, if not the reason, his support is slipping in places like Iowa, where the Republican caucus is dominated by social conservative s. Seems like most of these folks are jumping ship to Mike Huckabee, 30 days before the caucus. Being the nerd that I am, I watched a town hall on C-SPAN tonight with Romney, and sure enough, three of the questions from caucus-goers referenced Mike Huckabee.

And that’s the story line here. While there’s some historical relevance to Romney, one of the first Mormons to be competitive in a Presidential race, giving a speech about his faith, the talk smacks of inauthentici ty. Romney has been running for President for more than a year now, and he’s resisted talking about his faith at all costs. All of a sudden he finds himself slipping in the polls to Huckabee, and he decides to give a national talk on “Faith in America.”

Romney’s campaign is saying that the address will be a chance for Mitt to “share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.” But the underlying reason is that Romney’s being schooled by Huckabee in Iowa, and needs to respond.


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Devil’s In The Details? Not If You Ask Most Americans

Welcome to the latest American renaissance… a loathsome return to the “dark ages”. A new poll tells us that more Americans believe in hell and the devil…litera lly…than believe in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The only good news…and I say as much with all available facetiousnes s…is that nearly two thirds of all Americans believe in miracles. Why is that good news? Because it now appears it’s going to take a miracle to get this country tracking on a set of rational rails and not hitching it’s wacky wagon to a messianic magic carpet.

More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America’s deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have “Intelligent Design” theory — which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance — taught in schools alongside evolution.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin’s theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin’s theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual ’s theory of “natural selection.”

What I find so baffling is that in real life you can’t get most of these people to accept hard and fast facts…but when it comes to faith, they’re willing to believe in the cookie monster. Global warming…not a chance. No connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11…not on your life.

If the above data isn’t enough to convince you we’re on the fast train to rampant regression, not to worry…there’ s more data to report.

More born-again Christians — a term which usually refers to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience — believed in witches at 37 percent than mainline Protestants or Catholics, both at 32 percent.

OK, it was just a few months back when James Dobson and Focus on the Family released the following statement with regards to Harry Potter.

“We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.” His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it’s difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionab le minds.

At the time, I assumed Dobson was opposed to Harry Potter because it glamorized “witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins […]” to children…lea ding young people to embrace irrational notions and engage in irrational fantasies while distracting them from their religious studies. Little did I know that nearly a third of all Americans actually believe that witches exist and probably think the Harry Potter books were written to recruit more witches.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Many of these same people believe that Tinky Winky and Sponge Bob Square Pants are characters created by militant homosexual sympathizers that are intended to indoctrinate children into the gay lifestyle. When did a duck stop being a duck?

I must admit I’m totally flummoxed at the number of foolish and fallacious fixations. Have they become the means by which people disconnect from the harsh realities that permeate their increasingly complex lives? Are average Americans so disconnected from the practice of reason and an understandin g of the technology that surrounds them that they seek comfort in the simplicity of these virtual fabrications  ?

I don’t know the answers to my questions…bu t I do know it’s increasingly important for us to find them before we return to the logic that believed witches would float if tossed into a body of water…fully ignoring the fact that the accused was condemned to death either way. If they did float, they would be put to death for being a witch; if they sank and drowned, they weren’t a witch…but nonetheless dead? Frankly, we’re not that far from the wholesale suspension of cognition.

Makes a person want to dig out the Ouija Board and look into the future…but I’m going to stick with my Tarot Cards…I’ve found the results are much more to my liking.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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Do Evangelicals See Africa As The Path To Theocracy?

I’ll admit that ever since the President and the religious right adopted the AIDS crisis in Africa as one of their causes, I’ve been skeptical of their motivations. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their concern for those suffering in Africa and I’m not suggesting that their compassion is insincere. I believe it is genuine and I’m willing to acknowledge the benefits of their efforts…but I can’t do so without suspecting it is attached to a larger agenda…one that views the crisis in Africa as a proving ground for the implementati on of their moral code.

I still remember the initial reaction of Ronald Reagan and the GOP when AIDS emerged in the United States…and while generalizati ons are dangerous, it seems to me that much of the response to the AIDS crisis in this country was focused upon accusations of immorality directed towards the gay community. The virus served as evidence that the gay lifestyle was wrong and I remember the many assertions that AIDS was nothing more than god’s punishment.

As I try to reconcile the shift in attitude, it would be easy to conclude that time has served to soften hearts and thus the recent embrace of the fight against AIDS in Africa is just the culmination of that process. Unfortunatel y, I think it would be naive to accept that explanation without further analysis. After all, one cannot ignore the fact that AIDS is predominantl y a heterosexual disease in Africa.

A new two part article found at LifeSite piqued my curiosity and led me to the cusp of a newfound theory which I will attempt to explain after presenting an array of background information. I’ll start with the rhetoric found at LifeSite…rhe toric which when combined with the other data begins to substantiate my growing concerns that the effort in Africa is part of a larger agenda.

From LifeSite.net  (Part One):

November 1, 2007 (LifeSiteNew s.com) - An increasing number of scientists are acknowledgin g that the AIDS crisis, in Africa and worldwide, is seriously distorted and overblown by internationa l agencies and corporations  , who in many cases tend to profit from the confusion. In recent months, more of these researchers have been speaking out against a wealthy and powerful establishmen t that consistently ignores fundamental facts regarding HIV and AIDS.

The controversy stems from a fundamental disagreement over almost every issue regarding AIDS transmission  , prevalence, and prevention. While the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other internationa l agencies insist that AIDS is a growing global epidemic that must be treated with massive condom distribution  , sex education, and drug treatments, several high-profile scientists call the picture a “distortion” . They say that AIDS statistics are overblown, and argue that the best means of prevention is abstinence and marital fidelity.

Dr. James Chin was the former head of a World Health Organization Global Programme on Aids unit from 1987-1992 and is currently a public health professor at UC Berkeley. He noted in a recent interview that in reality, the AIDS “pandemic” is not as widespread as it is often portrayed, and not even in large parts of Africa, where rates of infection with the Human Immunodefici ency Virus (HIV) vary widely.

“In South Africa, close to 20 percent of the adult population is infected with HIV, whereas in Ghana, it is only 2 to 3 percent of the population, and in Senegal, less than one percent is infected,” Chin told Cybercast News Service.

In a separate interview with LifeSiteNews  , Chin stated that the differences between these nations and countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe, where the rate of HIV infection is as high as 20 percent of the adult population, is at least in part due to behavioral differences, including sexual behavior. “In general, there are lower prevalence of sexual risk behaviors and HIV facilitating factors in West African populations compared to Eastern and Southern African populations, ” he said.

Chin added that the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), has refused to acknowledge its own studies showing that the epidemic has stabilized or is in decline.

Chin also quoted the report’s admission that “changes in behavior” are at the root of the success. “In several countries, favourable trends in incidence are related to changes in behaviour and prevention programs. Changes in incidence along with rising AIDS mortality have caused global HIV prevalence (the proportion of people living with HIV) to level off,” the report states.

In reading this article, the primary agenda of these religiously motivated groups jumps out within the first two paragraphs. First and foremost is an effort to document that abstinence programs are working and are responsible for reductions in HIV infections. Secondly, they seek to undermine the assertions by numerous groups that condom distribution and sex education are essentially the fundamental tools in the battle against this deadly virus.

Note how Dr. Chin actually attempts to utilize the UNAIDS studies to support the arguments being made by LifeSite and the many religious groups that have embraced the AIDS crisis in Africa. The fact that the UNAIDS report cites “changes in behavior” is being construed to suggest that abstinence is the fundamental behavioral change. In reality, the UNAIDS statement refers to a variety of behavior changes…one of which is the expanding use of condoms which has been facilitated by a better understandin g of the virus and the ability to dispel preexisting beliefs which have hindered the implementati on of safe sex practices.

The following excerpts are from the second article at LifeSite.

From LifeSite.net  (Part Two):

Nov. 2, 2007 (LifeSiteNew s.com) - Dr. James Chin has recently published a book detailing his struggles with the UNAIDS establishmen t. Titled “The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology with Political Correctness”  , the book’s thesis is that “the story of HIV has been distorted by UNAIDS and AIDS activists in order to support the myth of the high potential risk of HIV epidemics spreading into the general population” according to the publisher.

Chin’s criticisms are echoed by two other eminent scientists at Harvard’s Center on Population and Development, Dr. Edward Green and Dr. Daniel Halperin, whose research continues to be ignored by the AIDS establishmen t. Dr. Green has served as team leader on numerous USAID project designs and evaluations. Dr. Halpern is a former Technical Adviser for Prevention/B ehaviour Change, USAID Southern Africa Regional HIV/AIDS Program.

The two Harvard scientists have noted that, while abstinence programs in countries like Uganda have proven their effectivenes s, AIDS policymakers continue to promote condom use, and ignore the differences in AIDS rates among African nations.

Green has written a book on Uganda’s “ABC” approach to HIV transmission  : first Abstinence, then Be Faithful, then if the first two fail, use a Condom. Uganda’s immediate response to the AIDS threat in the early 1980s reduced the incidence of HIV infection from 15% to less than 4% in the space of a few years. Green’s book examines the strange disconnect between the demonstrated effectivenes s of abstinence and marital fidelity campaigns and the prevention strategies of internationa l aid agencies.

In an article for the journal The Responsive Community, Green points out the utter failure of the condom-pushi ng approach of UNAIDS. “How has the Western risk-reducti on model fared in Africa? There is no evidence that mass promotion of condoms has paid off with a decline of HIV infection rates at the population level in Africa, according to a new UNAIDS assessment of condom effectivenes s. In fact, countries with the highest levels of condom availability  (Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya) also have some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world,” he writes.

Green notes that the insistence on promoting failed policies can be explained in part by a cultural bias in favor of sexual promiscuity and permissivene ss, but adds that an important factor may also be the economic interests of the global AIDS establishmen t. “Apart from Western values and biases, there are economic factors to consider. AIDS prevention has become a billion dollar industry” he writes. “Under President Bush’s global AIDS initiative, the US will spend $15 billion, partially on prevention. It would be politically naive to expect that those who profit from the lucrative AIDS-prevent ion industry would not be inclined to protect their interests.”

The data presented by Chin and LifeSite is cherry picked to paint the picture they are promoting. Specifically  , those in favor of abstinence have pointed to Uganda as an abstinence success story. The problem with that analysis is that they choose to look at a limited period of time to make their argument. Once one looks at the situation in Uganda without ignoring all of the data, the effectivenes s of abstinence only is seriously challenged.

The following is from my previous posting on the subject. Newly inserted data is in bold and italicized text.

Abstinence: Uganda HIV Rates Suggest Failure

The latest HIV infection information from Uganda seems to indicate that the abstinence approach may be a disaster in the making. Uganda, long viewed as a model for HIV prevention success in Africa, appears to have taken a wrong turn in promoting the program described as ABC…A: abstinence first…B: be faithful in a committed relationship …C: use condoms if A and B fail. The Bush administrati on appears to be complicit in these alarming new infection rates by virtue of its push towards programs that emphasize abstinence while moving away from the promotion of condom usage.

From allAfrica.co m:

Speaking at the ceremony, the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) Director General, Dr Kihumuro Apuuli, said despite financial support from the donor community, the rate of people acquiring HIV/Aids is still increasing.

He said, in 2005 130,000 Ugandans got infected compared to 70,000 in 2003.

Updated data suggests that new infections were estimated to have increased from 132,000 people in 2005 to 136,000 in 2006.

One must understand a little of the history of Uganda’s AIDS prevention efforts in order to draw any conclusions. Uganda was one of the first African nations to openly discuss HIV and to direct energy and money towards awareness. In 1986, President Museveni toured the country with a message that HIV prevention was a patriotic endeavor and basically introduced the above described program that has come to be called the ABC’s of AIDS prevention. There is little dispute about these basic facts. However, since that time the interpretati on of the resulting data has been widely divergent and controversia l.

When the Bush administrati on announced its five year, 15 billion dollar effort to combat HIV in Africa in early 2003, it immediately embraced the Ugandan ABC program as a model for the rest of Africa. Since that time, two opposing views have emerged with regard to an effective plan to combat HIV in Africa.

The administrati on and numerous religious groups (most of these groups have limited HIV experience) believe that abstinence should be the primarily prevention message. Those with significant HIV prevention experience caution that abstinence can be an adjunct to condom promotion and distribution  , but it is not a method that ought to be singularly embraced and endorsed. They cite abundant research and data to support this contention.

From talk2action. org:

Uganda was once an HIV prevention success story, where an ambitious government-s ponsored prevention campaign, including massive condom distribution and messages about delaying sex and reducing numbers of partners, pushed HIV rates down from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001. But conservative evangelicals rewrote this history–with the full-throate d cooperation of Uganda’s evangelical first family, the Musevenis. As one Family Research Council paper put it:

“Both abstinence and monogamy helped to curb the spread of AIDS in Uganda…How did this happen? Shortly after he came into office in 1986, President Museveni of Uganda spearheaded a mass education campaign promoting a three-pronge d AIDS prevention message: abstinence from sexual activity until marriage; monogamy within marriage; and condoms as a last resort. The message became commonly known as ABC: Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms if A and B fail.”

This warped version of the true Uganda story became the mantra in Bush’s Washington, with the “C” reduced more and more to an afterthought as time went by. For example, in piling on against a 2002 pro-condom comment by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson wrote condoms out of the story entirely: “Secretary Powell seems to be ignorant of the fact the Uganda has made great progress against AIDS by emphasizing abstinence, not condoms.”

To see more about this shifting Bush administrati on emphasis on abstinence and faith based programs, please see the prior Thought Theater posting on the topic here. Questions about the Ugandan effort and their reports of successful results began to surface in 2004.

From BBC News:

An organisation helping people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda has questioned the authenticity of the government’s statistics on the disease.

Uganda is often held up as a success story and the government lauded for the progress it has made with the official prevalence rate put at only 6%.

But after conducting research in districts across Uganda, an NGO suggests the real picture is far worse.

They found prevalence rates as high as 30% and bad access to anti-retrovi rals.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga, the executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda (NGEN), said he believed the HIV prevalence rate could be more than three times higher than previously thought.

“We have found the prevalence rate at this time is 17%,” he told a news conference.

Additional data was reported in early 2005 in the San Francisco Chronicle. Take particular note that researchers seem to be confounded by the information they were gathering when they compared it to the reported declines in infection rates. Not only were they finding that abstinence was waning, they were puzzled that infection rates appeared to be declining. They point out that condom use seemed to be on the increase…pos sibly providing an explanation to the confusing data.

Research from the heavily studied Rakai district in southern Uganda suggests that increased condom use, coupled with premature death among those infected more than a decade ago with the AIDS virus, are primarily responsible for the steady decline in HIV infections in that area.

Uganda’s “ABC” prevention formula — standing for Abstinence, Be Faithful, and use Condoms — has been widely credited with lowering that nation’s infection rate from 30 percent in the early 1990s to below 10 percent today.

In the Rakai district, however, researchers found that abstinence and fidelity have actually been declining, but the expected rise in HIV infections stemming from such behavior has not occurred.

“Condom use may be offsetting other high-risk behaviors,” said Maria Wawer, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who presented the study at a session of the 12th Annual Retrovirus Conference in Boston.

The Rakai findings are based on an extensive and continuing process of interviewing 10,000 adults each year –a so-called population-b ased survey that is considered the gold standard for this kind of epidemiologi cal research.

Reports of consistent condom use by men rose to more than 50 percent by 2002, compared with 10 percent a decade earlier. Among women, reports of condom use rose from virtually zero to 25 percent.

In order to fully understand all the factors that may explain these new infection statistics, one must also realize what was taking place within the Ugandan condom distribution program. In 2004, the Ugandan government suddenly issued a recall for condoms that were being distributed for free at numerous clinics throughout the country. The President of Uganda indicated concerns about the quality of the condoms.

PBS has covered the issue of condoms in Uganda in an article as well as a video which can be found here. The video adds to the body of evidence suggesting that condom use is superior to abstinence in the prevention of HIV infection.

From Avert.org:

In 2004 the Ugandan government issued a nationwide recall of the condoms distributed free in health clinics, due to concerns about their quality. Although tests showed there was nothing at all wrong with the condoms, the government said that public confidence in the brand had been badly dented, so they would not redistribute them. By mid-2005 there was said to be a severe scarcity of condoms in Uganda, made worse by new taxes which made the remaining stocks too expensive for many people to afford.

Some have said the US is largely to blame for the shortages. According to Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, “there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administrati on in the United States is now pursuing”.

Mr Lewis has also said that PEPFAR’s emphasis on abstinence above condom distribution is a “distortion of the preventive apparatus and is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred”.

However, speaking in August 2005, Uganda’s coordinator of condom procurement at the Ministry of Health denied there was any shortage of condoms, and said that new stocks would be distributed soon. She also said the government was committed to promoting all three parts of the “ABC” strategy: Abstinence, Faithfulness and Condoms.

From Kaisernetwor k.org:

U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis and other AIDS advocates in August said the Bush administrati on’s policy of promoting abstinence prevention programs and cuts in federal funding for condoms have contributed to a condom shortage in Uganda and undermined the country’s HIV/AIDS fight. Uganda needs between 120 million and 150 million condoms annually, but since October 2004 only 32 million have been distributed in the country, according to the U.S.-based Center for Health and Gender Equity, also known as CHANGE.

In 2005, Act Up also took up the issue of the reported condom shortage in Uganda and the fears about the shift to abstinence programs that were emerging since the introduction of the Bush administrati ons efforts to combat the disease in Africa.

From Actupny.org:

(Manhattan) A coalition of AIDS activists held a demonstratio n in midtown Manhattan outside of the Ugandan Permanent Mission to the United Nations today to bring attention to that nation’s severe condom shortage which is putting people at dangerous risk of HIV infection. The crisis has developed over the past ten months as the government of Uganda has stopped its robust program of public sector condom distribution . These condoms previously accounted for 80% of condoms available in the country.

Since May 2004, new shipments–so me 30 million quality-appr oved condoms–have been sitting in government warehouses. Activists are demanding to know why, nearly a year into the shortage, health clinics are still unsupplied and the government is refusing to state when or how they will distribute the condoms. “This crisis could have been averted by the government long ago. The condoms are there, but what is in woeful shortage is the political will of Ugandan leaders to distribute them and promote condom use,” said Sharonann Lynch of Health GAP.

Now activists in Uganda say the program has been overtaken by abstinence-u ntil-marriag e approaches as President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni are aligning Uganda’s policies with the ideology touted–and financed–by the United States government.

Uganda is a country receiving funds from the President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The program requires a minimum of 33% of its prevention funds to be used for abstinence-o nly-until-ma rriage programs, and limits the distribution of condoms to specific high-risk groups. “The strident prevention politics tied to the Bush administrati on’s AIDS funding are undermining sound prevention in the name of abstinence-o nly approaches. Scientific studies have shown the inadequacy of such methods, and President Museveni is neglecting the public health of Ugandans by bowing to Bush’s pressure.” said Eustacia Smith of ACT UP.

A comprehensiv e review of this body of information simply illuminates the misguided efforts of the Bush administrati on with regard to HIV prevention. The data not only show that the abstinence approach is at best suspect (and more likely, wholly insufficient  ); it clearly demonstrates that condom availability and usage are the essential tool in combating increasing infection rates.

One is left to wonder about the accuracy of the reported data. While the near doubling of infection rates is sufficiently alarming, it is even more frightening to consider the possibility that the information may be inaccurate. I have no way to verify the data and while I question the motivations of the Ugandan government, it may be several years before it can be determined if the numbers may have been deliberately under reported.

Uganda is a snapshot of a confluence of allegiances and events that will ultimately have led to more pain, suffering, and death. History will likely note that the matching ideologies of those in power in both nations directly led to the unnecessary spread of a deadly disease at a time when money and energy were available to enable the opposite. That is an unmitigated and inexcusable tragedy.

End - Abstinence: Uganda HIV Rates Suggest Failure

Returning to this latest reporting from LifeSite and Drs. Chin, Green, and Halperin, we see a continuation of the propaganda which has accompanied the campaign to combat HIV in Africa utilizing the values of the religious right under the auspices of the Bush administrati on’s massive funding commitment.

The effort to distort the facts is enormous and there are other players in the plot. Even worse, there are increasing concerns that the UN, through agencies such as UNICEF, is silently accepting some of the distortions as a matter of political expediency. They may well have good reasons given the strong belief that the 15 billion dollar U.S. funding commitment is beneficial despite its requirement that a third of the spending be earmarked for abstinence programs.

What remains unclear and poorly defined is any analysis of the merits of spending five billion of those dollars on abstinence as opposed to using that same money on more beneficial and proven strategies…i ncluding more safe-sex education, access to condoms, and much needed anti-retrovi ral treatment.

Zimbabwe appears to be the latest focus of this tug of war as well as an example of my lingering concerns.

From UNICEF.org:

HARARE, 31October 2007 – New data shows that Zimbabwe’s HIV rate continues to drop, giving it one of the most significant and rapid declines of any country in the world.

The overall HIV prevalence among antenatal clinic attendees (pregnant women) decreased from 25.7per cent in 2002 to 21.3per cent (2004) and now to 17.7per cent in 2006. Based on this, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and internationa l experts today published the new estimate of the HIV sero-prevale nce rate among Zimbabwe’s adult population to be 15.6per cent.

The new data reinforces Zimbabwe’s successes in behaviour change among young people. The biggest falls among pregnant women were recorded among the 15-24 year age group, showing a drop in HIV from 20.8 percent to 13.1 percent in just four years (2002 to 2006).

“Young people are having fewer partners and using more condoms,” said UNFPA’s Representati ve in Zimbabwe, Bruce Campbell. “They have heard the messages, taken action, and are being safer. Now we must continue our combined efforts to ensure national HIV prevention programmes have an even greater reach.”

Zimbabwe was one of the first countries to develop a comprehensiv e epidemiologi cal review which resulted in an evidence-bas ed behaviour change strategy. Promotion of partner reduction and consistent condom use remain at the core of the strategy.

Currently around two-thirds of people who need treatment are not receiving it, and so without a significant additional injection of funds, universal access will not be attained. […] There are an estimated 98,000 HIV positive pregnant women in need of PMTCT services, far more that the 8500 who received them in 2006.

As we see from this data, infection rates seem to be on the decline…but the explanation offered is notably vague. Let me be clear…I am not suggesting that the information is intentionall y deceptive; rather I suspect that it is decidedly broad so as to avoid the obvious conflict that persists with regard to the preferred prevention strategy.

Note that the article speaks of behavioral change but avoids any effort to quantify the success of the various methods (safe-sex education, abstinence, condom usage). I contend that lack of clarity is a function of political calculations …and I’m not the only one offering such speculation.

From The Internationa l Herald Tribune:

Others were doubtful of the figures and the assumptions, pointing to Zimbabwe’s economic and infrastructu ral meltdown, lack of medical care and medication, and the difficulties of relying on statistics when as much as a third of the population has abandoned the country.

“I think with the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, one would be kind of skeptical about statistics, which could also be caused by an undercount, by mass migration …,” said Dr. David Bourne, an epidemiologi st at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

From allAfrica.co m:

But experts have questioned the validity of the government’s surveys, given that millions of Zimbabweans are fleeing the country due to the ongoing political decay and economic meltdown. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to neighbouring South Africa in search of employment and better living conditions. Up to 2 million more are scattered around the globe.

Reports in South Africa suggest that HIV/Aids rates in that country are rising, as Zimbabwe’s are supposedly dropping.

Brian Nyathi, a Zimbabwean health practitioner in South Africa questioned the reliability of the government’s latest figures given that so many people are leaving the country.

He said: “Many people have left Zimbabwe and the ones that are left are so struck down by poverty and the collapse of the health delivery system such that they can not access hospitals. We wonder then if these figures can be trusted.”

Health reporter Bertha Shoko said disparities in the figures of people needing anti-retrovi ral therapy had also raised eyebrows.

Shoko said that the figures were questionable because they seem to have increased when prevalence rate is falling. The survey itself only took place at a few medical institutions .

“Speculation is rife that the UN only accepted the figures for political diplomatic reasons, ” she said.

My worry is that the political environment is hindering adequate reporting and may well be subject to manipulation as the various factions jockey to justify their methodology. If Uganda is representati ve of the past distortions, one must wonder what will be uncovered in the next few years with those other nations which are now being sought out and identified as proof for these suspect strategies.

In my most cynical moments, I find myself wondering if the powers that be on the religious right have decided to make Africa the guinea pig of an ideological struggle to promote the religious values of American evangelicals . Keep in mind that the AIDS crisis isn’t unique to Africa yet it garners the bulk of our attention. In fact, if one looks at the world, perhaps Africa is the last logical frontier available for such an ambitious experiment.

Specifically  , our influence in Europe has been limited for many years, the Soviet Union and China are off limits for obvious reasons, Latin and South America are moving rapidly to the left with a noticeable rejection of U.S. influence, and the Middle East and most Eastern nations have incompatible religious beliefs and would resist any U.S. effort to instill Western values.

Taking the theory a step further, if the religious right has concluded that fully defeating secularism, “the homosexual agenda”, and the separation of church and state in the United States isn’t feasible at the moment, then a back door approach might be the preferred path. Suppose the goal is to eventually hold up the African experiment as the rationale for discrediting secularism, condemning the gay lifestyle, and elevating and embracing biblical law over all others. Toss in the standard fare of fear mongering…fe ar that an HIV ravaged Africa represents what could well happen to America if our existing mores are allowed to continue their purported “decline”…an d one begins to imagine a master plan of grandiose proportions… yet one that isn’t all that implausible.

I contend it isn’t possible to reconcile the abject rejection of the gay lifestyle (mindful of its connection to HIV) with the eagerness to defeat AIDS in Africa without understandin g the possible ulterior motives. If the defeat of HIV in Africa can be construed to have resulted from the instilling of “morally acceptable” behavior, it provides a new weapon with which to attack the gay lifestyle as well as other unwanted social and political constructs. Stay with me…I promise I can connect the dots.

If abstinence, and one man with one woman joined together in marriage for life, can be demonstrated to limit the prevalence of HIV (and obviously other STD’s), it allows a return to the assailing of the permissive lifestyle (particularl y focused upon gays)…the very one which would be argued to have been a significant factor in facilitating the spread of HIV in America. If that focus can be rekindled, the gay lifestyle can once again be vilified to the voting public…the same voting public that has recently been demonstrated to be highly vulnerable to manipulation by fear.

Once that ball is rolling, the natural progression is an outright rejection of the gay lifestyle (it can be called unnatural and unhealthy and therefore it shouldn’t be normalized), a recommitment to conventional values (they promote healthy living which is what ought to be taught in schools), a rejection of the laissez faire attitude which accompanies secularism (the seeds of Sodom and Gomorrah), and the opening to begin implementing biblical law (church and state become one and the same under god’s law).

Throw in the fact that such an environment would obviously forbid abortion and one begins to imagine the minions salivating at the prospect of a successful societal superfecta. I hope I’m wrong but when I think about the fact that we seem to ignore the millions of Americans living in poverty and the 47 million who lack health insurance, I can’t help but recognize the dissonance. My antennae will remain up until I start to hear some different signals.

Unlike with horses, I have this nagging feeling the religious right has concluded that Americans will drink the kool-aid if the powers that be can simply figure out the means to lead them to the trough. Consider this fair warning…I’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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